The Science of One-Night Stands

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In a confirmation of persistent stereotypes, an international team of psychologists have determined that when it comes to one-night stands, men have much lower standards than women do. The study, published in the journal Human Nature, revealed that when asked whether they would “go out with,” “go home with,” or “go to bed with,” a member of the opposite sex, men were universally more willing than their female counterparts, regardless of how attractive the potential partner was. Women, in contrast, were much more picky—agreeing to head home or sleep with men only if they were very good looking.

The research is a follow up to a pioneering handful of studies of “short term mating” in which researchers sent young men and women on the prowl at a Florida university, instructing them to approach people attractive enough that they would actually consider sleeping with them, and within two sentences of conversation, see if they would agree to a date, a trip back to the questioner’s apartment, or a roll in the hay. (Presumably, for research purposes they didn’t actually need to follow through on the request, merely record the response.) Whereas no women would sleep with the investigators, and only 3% agreed to go back to their apartments, a full 75% of men agreed to sleep with the female questioners, regardless of how cute they were. (Not very, according to the study authors, who put both the male and female recruits somewhere between slightly unattractive and moderately attractive. Ouch.)

Hoping to expand on that research, a team of researchers from the U.K., Germany and Florida designed a questionnaire and administered it to groups of German, Italian and American students. Participants were asked again if they would go out with, go home with or spend the night with a stranger, and also asked how those answers would change if the imagined candidate was “slightly unattractive,” “moderately attractive,” or “exceptionally attractive.” The investigators found that, regardless of nationality, men were still more willing to take random ladies home and spend the night with them, but there were some cultural differences in terms of standards—Italian men being the most generous with their affections. 33% of all men surveyed said they would go to bed with a “slightly unattractive” person they’d never met, while only 2% of women would. For really attractive candidates, 54% of men would say yes to a one night stand, while less than 8% of women would.

Unlike the earlier study, however, this analysis left some wiggle room for responses, which the women happily took advantage of. While few would outright agree to sleep with their imaginary suitors, a quarter of female responders said they wouldn’t immediately reject a very good looking man, and half said they would leave open the option of a trip back to his apartment.

In addition to conjuring potential sexual partners to imaginarily reject, date, take home or take to bed, study participants were also asked to size themselves up on a scale of attractiveness. According to the researchers, compared with Italians and Germans, both American men and women tended to overestimate how good looking they were. Those most likely to underestimate their sex appeal? Italian women, and by a wide margin. According to the researcher whose job it was to assign participants to hotness categories, though they deemed themselves plain Janes, among the Italian ladies were “five of the ten most beautiful women he had ever seen.” The study didn’t specify how he keeps track of that tally, or indeed how he got the job in the first place. His assessment does, however, call to mind this Flight of the Conchords song.

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